One more thing… about Quicksilver

My actual Quicksilver review was already running long (I deleted a couple paragraphs that did nothing but reinforce my point about things not being explained) so I didn’t work this in:

I haven’t read or watched anything in the Games of Throne/A Song of Ice and Fire series, but from what I gather that’s what Stephenson went for or should have been going for in Quicksilver. Several different powers vying with each other, lots of intrigue, secrecy, backstabbing, stuff like that among kings and would-be kings. Except while I expect/assume Martin lays out all the plans and actions of the various kings/queens/whatever in Game of Thrones, painstakingly detailing what every character is thinking and doing and how they impact one another, Stephenson doesn’t want to look at the big chess game between Britain, France, The Netherlands and the various kings, earls, dukes, financiers, scientists, religious figures and others fighting with or against each other.

And that’s my major complaint with Quicksilver. The full board isn’t shown, just mentions of this pawn or that rook being moved to another square, and there’s no reason for this. It doesn’t aid the story to restrict the focus so tightly, it has the opposite effect. Less is understandable because less information is given.

I imagine there’s some point in Game of Thrones along the lines of one king learning that his neighbor, who he has strained relations with, has moved troops away from his border to the border of another nation (I’m creating a hypothetical situation here). That would be a major turn of events, because it at least implies the possibility of the other nations going to war, and that could have repercussions for our hypothetical king. And what those repercussions are, how probable they are, would be explained to the reader. It wouldn’t be an offhand comment (“Oh by the way, Binky the Dark has moved his wolfriders to the border with Gumdrop Land”), it would be a point where our king now has to muse on what this could mean, possibly reassessing his own priorities or changing his own plans.

And I assume Martin presents that event with the gravity and significance it deserves, whereas Stephenson would just treat it as an offhand comment, until later on when one of his characters has lost a lot of money because it was invested in goods that couldn’t be transported through the Gumdrop Land because of war closing down the border, and we’re just being told that now, after the fact.

What should be done, in this hypothetical scenario, is that when it’s discovered Binky the Dark is moving his troops our hypothetical investor should muse over what this could mean for his financial status, possibly trying to take action to mitigate or avoid a loss on his trade goods. By time and again Stephenson doesn’t do that, he just drops a hint something’s about to happen then skips ahead to after it’s happened and tosses out the ramifications of it in passing.

Book 47: Quicksilver

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

This will be a bit lengthy, so I’m using a ‘Read More’ break here.

My general thoughts? The book isn’t bad, but it’s ill-formed and never really draws me in because Stephenson doesn’t seem concerned with making the entire stage and all the players in this saga understood by me, someone who is not familiar with the time period or subjects at play.

As I was reading the book (and it took me quite a while to read this) I was put in mind of Peter Jackson after Lord of the Rings was a giant success. He now had the clout to make a 3-hour remake of King Kong and nobody could or would say to him ‘No. That’s too much. There’s all this fat to trim, needless scenes or side stories. It doesn’t need to be this long or bloated.’

But then as I sat down and worked on finishing this I realized that analogy isn’t entirely accurate, because as overstuffed as Jackson’s King Kong was, it was fully invested in explaining everything to the audience and making sure they were keeping up with the story. Stephenson, on the other hand, seems to think he doesn’t need to explain what’s going on outside any given scene or in the interim of any jumps over weeks or months. This book covers a couple decades but the sweeping trends affecting Britain, France, and the rest of Europe are so much background noise, even though they very much are impacting the characters we’re following.

It’s kind of like if a book focused on someone working in Washington DC from the 1920’s into the 1950’s, but never explaining things like the Great Depression, World War II or the Red Scare, not because those events don’t matter to the character or his life, but because the writer just doesn’t want to take the time to explain them.

While I acknowledge that maybe I’m so ignorant and thick that I can’t understand what’s going on despite Stephenson’s attempts to make it clear, I think the actual explanation is he got so deep into the particulars that he lost sight of the entire picture. Weeks or months pass between chapters, wars are fought, thrones are passed between people, and Stephenson more often than not would rather spend time detailing how to differentiate ships transporting loads of iron down river from ships that are empty.

Read More

dunesen:

If you want to understand how NOT to do a movie trailer, look at the trailer for Book of Life.

Fantastic, detailed, unique visual style that doesn’t go so far as to overwhelm the audience but absolutely captures their attention, an intriguing enough storyline (Why does that guy…

The trailer I saw is the one currently playing in front of The Boxtrolls. That’s how I saw it yesterday. As for *good* trailers… Well, pretty much any one that establishes the movie it’s advertising as having a coherent plot based on an interesting premise has done it’s job. It’s not like I have high standards for trailers; they’re just advertisements, after all. But ones that are about showing the best jokes in the movie, or which try to make the movie look like something it’s not (usually it’s the opposite of what we see with the Book of Life trailer, where bland, run-of-the-mill movies get trailers that strain mightily to make them look like something unique) are bad, if for different reasons.

Oh! An example of a trailer I like? The first one for X2: X-Men United. It doesn’t actually give the total plot away, and it doesn’t try to highlight just the best moments (being an action movie that’d be difficult), but by centering it around the early plot point of an armed invasion of Xavier’s mansion it not only got my attention but it left me eager to find out what was going on. It got me excited for the movie, as a trailer should do. Or the teaser trailer for The Dark Knight. It doesn’t even show anything, it’s just dialogue. Or on the subject of Nolan, the trailer for Inception didn’t give any plot details away, just the fact that there were some eye-catching visuals in the movie. But those are action movies, and Book of Life is a family-comedy. Different genres require different marketing strategies, sure.

If you want to understand how NOT to do a movie trailer, look at the trailer for Book of Life.

Fantastic, detailed, unique visual style that doesn’t go so far as to overwhelm the audience but absolutely captures their attention, an intriguing enough storyline (Why does that guy turn into a skeleton? What’s the deal with that?), but then the trailer itself is just a bombardment of simple gags that could have (rather, have been) done any- and everywhere else.

I’m wondering if it’s designed to lower the defenses of American audiences. “Here’s a fairy tale involving a culture you usually only see as a cartoonish, stereotyped Other, BUT DON’T WORRY! It’s filled with all the cliched gags and reaction shots and lazy one-liners you’d see in an American film. It’s safe!”

I know trailers aren’t always a good indication of a film’s actual worth, and I’m hoping this is a time when the trailer is absolutely wrong and the movie is something much better and worthwhile than the advertising makes it out to be.

Books 43-46: Haruhi-Chan

The Melancholy of Haruhi-Chan Suzumiya by Nagaru Tanigawa and Puyo (B)


Need anything deep be said about this? The regular Haruhi Suzumiya series was light-hearted enough* that the idea of a full-on comedy seems superfluous, but Haruhi-Chan embraces the silly-almost-surreal mindset and mines the character types and interactions to present something in the spirit of but distinct from the original series.

I’d say it’s ultimately a worthwhile move. The premise of the series and the personality of the main character are, arguably, better suited for silly hijinks than a serio-comic narrative.

So yeah: recommended if you enjoy the original series.


*Though a flaw I couldn’t ignore was that Haruhi’s actions and habits could veer from ‘free-spirited/genki’ to ‘violation of personal space and dignity;’ her treatment of Mikuru being the obvious example. One advantage of Haruhi-Chan is that with things being so obviously played for laughs is it’s easier to not think too hard about such things.

Oh duh, Cloud

Final Fantasy VII did the thing I just described. Though what I’m sort of envisioning is that the entire objective and understanding of the game would be flipped by the revelation.

Video game idea/question

Maybe this has already been done before, I don’t know but here’s an idea: video game, first-person perspective. Opening video implies you’ve been in a car crash, not bad but you can’t drive and you need to find a phone to call a tow-truck. You come to a house, no answer. Signs of habitation, but things are off. Night falls quickly, and when you decided to stay for the night you find possible signs of a murder or something criminal.

You investigate, find clues alluding to the greater story and other mysteries (why is your car in the garage, no signs of the crash?) and then a good ways in you find a mirror and your reflection is that of a deteriorating, brutalized corpse and you start realize you memories aren’t real.

Has that ever been done in a game? Transferring the player character from neutral observer to active agent in the narrative retroactively? And not in a cheap “Everything has been manipulated behind the scenes” way but in a “WHAM! Everything you knew about yourself, the world, and your place in it was wrong!” way.

I’m gong to check TVTropes’ ‘Tomato in the mirror’ page. See what there is about video games.

Because I had to.

Because I had to.

Deep Breath

The only thing I remember from season two of Sherlock (other than the neutering of Irene Adler) is the multiple teases of Sherlock and Watson as a couple. I don’t think it would be controversial to presume this was done as the writers throwing a bone to the shippers among their audience; calling it ‘pandering’ may be a bit much but it feels it was done less as an organic development of the characters and more as ‘giving the viewers what they want.’ It was inoffensive for what it was, but it represented something I’ve also seen in Moffat’s time as series head for Doctor Who: the need to keep the fans happy and the allowance of this need to influence character and story.

And I couldn’t not think of that as I was (finally) watching Deep Breath last night. It wasn’t the little things, like bringing back Madame Vastra and company for this story. I can appreciate the value of that decision, giving Clara someone she knows to interact with as we go through another post-regeneration story and the Doctor has to figure out who he is (again). And setting aside time for Strax’s comedy is always welcome, even if it fell flat this time.

But bringing back Matt Smith for one last scene? And more to the point, making Clara’s story all about “How can I accept an old man as the Doctor?” Were Moffat and company really that concerned about fangirls not having a leading man to swoon over? Am I unfair to see things that way? I don’t think so. I try to hold my tongue about this, because when we get down to it it doesn’t affect me, but there’s this unavoidable current among the fandom that Tennant and Smith were/are treated as little more than eye candy or whatever the male equivalent of ‘mai waifu’ is. One of the reasons I welcome Capaldi as the Doctor is because it will (hopefully) send the shippers to their own little corner for a while.

But then his first episode is built upon how Clara can’t gush over him now, like Rose did Tennant and Amy did Smith. This is actually the first time I’ve felt there was any real character to Clara (she’s just been a plot device until now) and it ends up making her shallow. Boo.

No comment on Capaldi, since as I said above this is the post-regeneration episode, and those almost never give the actor a chance to play the character as he is. It’s usually about figuring out who he is this time around and then in later episodes we see the new Doctor as a fully realized character. So I’ll hold judgment until I see episodes two and three, but I have little reason to doubt Capaldi’s acting chops. He was a little cartoonish at times in this episode, I don’t know if going forward he’s supposed to be jokey or Cloud Cuckoolandish, but we’ll see if that sticks.

Random question: who was Capaldi’s favorite Doctor, either growing up or now? I’m wondering if he’s basing his performance on, say, Tom Baker the way Smith was said to be influenced by Troughton.

The story itself started out interesting; not the dinosaur in Victorian England part (that smacked of sensationalism, and the way it was contained to one place because Madame Vastra just happened to have the necessary technology on hand was far too pat), but the robot stealing a guy’s eyes and then the restaurant populated with mechanical people had my attention. But then it devolved into a reboot of Girl in the Fireplace, which a) is an episode I have mixed feelings for and b) makes Moffat seem a little… narcissistic? uninspired? by revisiting one of his own stories. I can accept the threat in a post-regeneration story needs to be kept small because that’s not the real hook of the episode, but ideas like the spaceship that’s been buried for millions of years (and really, how many times has that been done in Doctor Who now? Closing Time did that back in series six) and then the hot air balloon and the android’s desire to reach the promised land? Along with tying into Fireplace it makes the story feel a bit too… diffuse. It’s not as contained as it ideally would be.

Compare Eleventh Hour, with a threat to the entire world, yes, but the impetus being nothing more than an escaped prisoner; it’s self-contained even with the grandiosity of the entire world being at stake. Deep Breath, in the latter half, starts to feel like it’s getting away from itself, raising ideas and questions beyond what was a simple little story.

And that whole thing with ‘who posted the advertisement?’ and the epilogue and oh joy another mysterious woman who has a thing for the Doctor. Because I guess River Song has been drained of all her narrative potential but Moffat can’t let that concept go. I may be in the minority asking this but couldn’t the series let go of the overaching stories and unanswered questions for a while? The whole thing with the Silence and Trenzalore ended up fizzling out after all the build-up, and Moffat has already blown up the entire universe once. Couldn’t we just have a series made up of self-contained stories where the Doctor and his companion explore time and space, getting to know themselves and one another without this big mystery hanging over everything?

I like how Russell T. Davies would have arc words in each series, because it hinted at what was to come in the finales, but they were never front and center, demanding our attention. The thing that bugs me about how Moffat does it is we’re smacked in the face with the cracks or the mysterious woman popping out of nowhere, but there’s never a way for us to figure out where this is going. A good mystery story will drop clues throughout the narrative, giving the audience the possibility to piece together the solution on their own. But Moffat’s mysteries don’t allow that; we can only sit back, passive, until an infodump in the finale is delivered. It’s not as engaging.

Overall this was a good-not-great episode, but there are structural flaws to the series and Moffat’s vision.

dunesen:

In the Toy Story movies the toys act inanimate when people are around, but they have the ability to demonstrate their conscious existence to humans, as we see at the end of the first movie when they traumatize Sid.

But it’s never explained why they have to or choose to act…

But how is their desire to bring happiness conditional upon maintaining the illusion they’re inanimate. Wouldn’t their ability to bring joy to others be increased if they could interact with them?